February 27, 2012
ravioli de porc
(pulled-pork ravioli)
Mom emigrated from Germany at the age of 17. Dad was born in San Francisco to German immigrants who had met and married in San Francisco. Both my parents were Jewish, but their diet was totally secular except during Passover when matzos replaced bread on our table. There was no attempt by my mother to keep a Kosher kitchen, and except for the first night of Passover, one night was no different from the next. For the most part, food that nowadays is commonly thought of as being Jewish was shunned in our house. Pork was as common on our table as beef, chicken, or fish.
Unlike her mother, Mom was not formally trained in the art of cooking. Her mother had been sent from Munich to a boarding school in Austria as a teenager to learn how to be a proper middle‑class housewife. The training included a broad knowledge of cooking. (I still have her handwritten cooking notebooks from that period, and I would love to enjoy her stuffed squab just one more time.) The two woman never formed a cooperative team in the kitchen, and my mother never became much of a cook. (Mom was, however, known far and wide for her cookies.) In the 1950s, my mother bought into the whole modern cooking of the period including the extensive use of packaged food. My day as a young school boy started with Tang, Cheerio’s or some other dry cereal, and milk made palatable with Nestlé’s Quick. My lunch always had a bag of chips and a white‑bread sandwich. Dinner was either from scratch or fresh combined with packaged foods. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was a family favorite. Mom would prepare it from the box with milk and butter, pack it into a Pyrex baking dish, cover the top with a layer of American cheese slices, and bake it until the cheese on top was melted and slightly brown.
In those days, a barbecue was an outdoor, metal appliance that held charcoal briquettes. My parents “barbecued” turkeys, chickens, and roast beef but only with the rotisserie attachment. The grill part was never used. Barbecuing was not a concept or a cooking method, it was a device to cook with or in (and argue about). Most dishes that could, or later would be, construed as barbecue were not a part of our bill‑of‑fare, or even available to purchase outside of the nearby black neighborhood. It wasn’t until the 1980s when I began travelling for business throughout the South that I became aware of barbecue and its many regional variations.
Over the years, I have tried various recipes and methods for preparing, or recreating, different types of barbecue. Most attempts have been deemed successful, and most results have been tasty. Upon completion, most have also not been considered worth the effort. For example, the Cooks Illustrated method for Lexington‑Style Pulled Pork, which combines a dry rub, hours‑long smoking, and hours‑long low‑temperature oven cooking produced a very tasty pulled pork. When I compared it to a much simplified version were the meat is rubbed with a spice mixture, left to cure overnight in the refrigerator, and then slow‑cooked in a covered saucepan in the oven, the extra effort of the first method wasn’t considered worth the additional smoking time and expense. And in some ways, the abridged version had a nicer texture and cleaner flavor, especially if the sauce was left out. It was a dish that Mom would have appreciated and probably made, albeit with a packaged rub.
The dry rub recipe I use is not original. I found it in an October 1994 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine in an article by Charles Saunders. My version is close to the original recipe, but I’ll sometimes leave an ingredient out if I don’t have it on hand, especially the juniper berries. Sometimes I make it totally with ground spices and overlook the roasting. The ingredient quantities shown below produce about 170 g (6 oz) of rub. I mix up some rub whenever I’m low. I use it in lots of things I cook for mid‑week meals besides pulled pork. Kept in a sealed jar stored plain on the shelf, it’s never spoiled.
 20 g (34 oz)
whole juniper berries
10 g (38 oz)
whole cumin seeds
4 g (18 oz)
whole coriander seeds
6 g (14 oz)
whole fennel seeds
6 g (14 oz)
whole cloves
5 g (316 oz)
dried red pepper flakes
4 g (18 oz)
ground cinnamon
45 g (112 oz)
ancho chili powder
15 g (12 oz)
Hungarian sweet paprika
60 g (2 oz)
fine salt
1. Heat the juniper berries, cumin, coriander, fennel, cloves, and red pepper flakes in a dry frying pan over low‑to‑moderate heat until aroma is strong and juniper berries look oily.
2. Remove from the heat and grind in a spice grinder. Sieve out any large pieces not ground sufficiently, and regrind. Toss with the cinnamon, chili powder, paprika, and salt.
3. Store the rub in a sealed jar. Shake it each time before use since the ingredients sometimes separate a bit as the jar sits on the shelf.
Only a small quantity of pulled pork is required to make this amuse‑bouche.  I prepare the pork for one or two evening meals, and I set aside some of the cooked meat and juices for the ravioli. I’ll usually prepare the dish when my local butcher has pork shoulders, commonly called butts or blade roasts, on sale. It really doesn’t matter whether they have bone or not.
When you bring the meat home from the store, wipe off any liquid on the surface with a towel. Give it a liberal dousing of the dry rub, and rub the powder into the surface of the pork. Place the meat on a rack set over a sheet pan. Refrigerate the whole assembly without any wrapping or cover. If you lack the space in your refrigerator, you can wrap the dry rubbed‑meat tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it in that form. I haven’t noticed any distinct flavor difference between dry aging and wet aging since the aging time is quite quick. The first method is a holdover from when the meat was smoked; smoke sticks better to a dry surface than a wet one.
The following day, preheat your oven to 160 °C (320 °F). Unwrap the meat, if necessary, and place it in a saucepan or Dutch oven that is, at the most, only slightly larger than the meat. It’s okay if the fit is a little snug since the meat will shrink. Cover the pot, and place it in the oven. Cook the meat until much of the fat is rendered out and the meat is easily shredded with a fork. This will take from 3 to 6 hours, depending on the meat, the pot, and your oven. I try to check the meat once an hour or so and give it a turn, but only if I’m around. If your lid fits tight, the pot shouldn’t dry out.
When the meat is cooked, transfer it to a shallow roasting pan, and collect the rendered juices and fat in a bowl. Once the meat is barely cool enough to handle, pull out and discard any bones or cartilage. Either shred the meat with a couple of dinner forks or don some rubber gloves and use your hands for the process. Discard any large chunks of fat.
Transfer the meat that will be turned into raviolis to a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap. If you have mini‑loaf pans, fill them to a depth of about 4 cm (112 in). If using conventional‑sized loaf pans, fill to a depth of about 2 cm (34 in). (The depth depends on the area of the bottom of the loaf pan. You’ll want to be able to cut the required number of pieces from the cold, compressed meat.) Cover the meat with another layer of plastic wrap, and place the same‑size loaf pan over the plastic. Press the second loaf pan firmly down to compress the meat. Fill the second pan two‑thirds full with water, and transfer the assembly to your refrigerator. Leave it overnight, or until the meat is quite solid.
The next day, remove the assembly from your refrigerator and unwrap the meat from the plastic. The natural gelatin in the meat juices should have filled any gaps, and the whole piece should feel firm. Either cut the meat into pieces now, or freeze to use later. If using now, cut it into 2.5‑cm (1‑in) square by 1‑cm (38‑in) thick pieces. Enjoy the scraps as a reward for your hard work.
Separate sufficient sheets of spring‑roll wrapper from their packaging, and cut them to a size where they can completely wrap a pork square with only minimal overlap. Individually wrap each square with a cut piece, and seal the seams with a little water spread with your finger. Place the squares seam‑side down on a plate until all the ravioli are wrapped. Since I will make more than one night’s worth of raviolis, those not set aside for a soon‑to‑happen dinner service are vacuum packed in a single layer and frozen.
For the eventual “sauce,” separate most of the fat from the leftover cooking juices and discard it. Reduce the juices by about half. Any of the sauce not being immediately used can also be frozen.
To serve the ravioli, heat a 3‑mm (18‑in) coating of vegetable oil in a small frying pan over medium‑high heat. While the oil is heating, finely shred a small, interior leaf from a head of romaine lettuce. Arrange some of the shredded lettuce in a small mound on each of the serving dishes.
When the oil is hot, panfry the raviolis until brown and crisp on each side. Try to handle them as little as possible and turn them only once since the wrapping can tear and allow the goodness to escape. When cooked, drain them on a stack of paper towels. While the ravioli are cooking, reheat the juice and, if necessary, season it with fine salt. Place a single ravioli on each serving dish so it leans against the lettuce. Spoon a small amount of sauce over the tops of the ravioli and the greens. The finished dishes should be served immediately so the wrappers don’t get soggy. (If you’re a big fan of North Carolina barbecue, use a little Wilber’s Barbecue Sauce instead of the reduced juices.)

© 2012 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.